13TH San Diego Asian Film Festival: "Real" Fant-Asia Films Have Finally Arrived

SDAFF LOGOIt’s taken 13 years, but now “real” Fant-Asia films are being featured at this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival (SDAFF). “Real,” you say? Certainly in the past, outrageous Asian horror films, Japanese Xtreme gore fests and some over the top-ish martial arts films have graced the festival’s screens, but at the end of the day these films were labeled Fant-Asia as a result of the genre evolving to include films that went beyond the original scope of it’s foundation.
Not unlike martial arts movies that have now been delineated as Old School (a term usually referring to period piece Chinese kung fu movies made between 1966-1986), Fant-Asia has fallen into a similar dichotomy. It is therefore, with great glee that this year’s festival, which runs from Thursday, November 1 – Friday November 9, and features over 150 films from 25 countries, headlines two Old School Fant-Asia films.
First up, the film that has broken all box office records in China , Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012).
painted-skinThe first cinematic version of this macabre tale was shot as a pure horror film in 1966 under the title Painted Skin with a cheaper adaptation made in Taiwan in 1980 under the same title. Legendary martial arts film director King Hu’s account of the franchise cast the ultimate female ghost character actress in Hong Kong film, Joey Wong from A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), alongside Sammo Hung, which now introduced some martial arts action. Martial arts action director Stephen Tung Wai, the kid that say’s, “Let me think” to Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon (1973) as Lee is teaching him to kick, added even more fights in director Gordon Chan’s 2008 version of the film.
In Resurrection, an ancient malevolent fox spirit Xiaowei (Xun Zhou) breaks out of her icy prison and undertakes a seeded quest to become human by seducing men and eating their hearts. If a man willingly gives her his heart she will become mortal, be able to walk amongst the living and finally be free from hell. In the meantime, an ominous cloud looms over Princess Jing’s (Wei Zhao) kingdom. She flees the kingdom wearing a gold mask that hides her deep facial scares. Her quest is to find her former love who pines over his failure to protect the princess years ago. When fate brings Jing and Xiaowei together all hell breaks loose as the battle for the princess’ heart ensues.
Stephen Tung Wei returns to Resurrection to make this sensually-charged action/adventure saga even more wild and wooly, with ram tough rambunctious fights certain to butt heads with sensual in-ewe-endos as first generation Korean American Lee Ann Kim, fearless leader and executive director of the Pac-Arts Movement, which she founded as the San Diego Film Foundation in 2000 with the Asian American Journalists Association of San Diego laughingly blurts, “I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard that there is demon sex in it. We want to see how well the film translates here at the festival and it just makes sense for us to have a film like this at the festival.”
Flying DaggersIn case you came in late, when Western trained, new-wave filmmaker Tsui Hark directed Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain in 1983, the movie rang in the Fant-Asia film era, an interesting unique genre that quickly evolved into a seductive wild mix of horror, sex, sorcery, fantasy, science fiction and swordplay films all uniquely egg-rolled into something that Western filmgoers could understandably digest entertainment wise. To the Chinese audience, Hong Kong’s advances in filmmaking techniques, optical effects and in some cases CGI could bring to the screen the magical and mythical qualities that the authors of kung-fu novels had intended to convey to their readers. These old school Fant-Asia films were basically revamped and stylized wuxia films injected with what most people associate with Hong Kong cinema of from 1983-1994: frenetic paced over-the-top action mixed with far-out sight gags and gravity defying wire-fu.
So the stars have aligned and what better way is there than to screen a “neo-old school” Fant-Asia flick made by the father of Fant-Asia himself….Tsui Hark. Released in late December in 2011, Flying Swords, won the Best Action Choreography award at the 2011 Hong Kong Film Awards. The movie reunites Jet Li with Tsui, where Tsui’s love for the mystical, martial arts underworld of Jiang Hu returns to Dragon Gate Inn, a place where heroic swordsmen, vagabonds, eunuchs, treasure hunters and lovers collide. Really, what more is there to say?
Kim blurts, “It’s in 3-D! We’ve never done 3-D. This movie came out in a limited release in some theaters in major cities for less than a week with limited advertising. This was the same for last year’s festival hit, Jackie Chan in Shaolin. But the film was packed,  which speaks to the power of the SDAFF, where people want to have a collective experience and share an embrace something like a film festival. So we’re okay with showing some films that may be a little bit old….I mean come on…let’s face it…Jet Li?”
Dead BiteAnd of course the SDAFF has put together a big show of horror/gore/ghost/spurt/zombie/artery/robot/time travel and blood letting with an insanely sane creepazoid collection of eight, full length light to intense movies that will have you on the edge and under your seat.  No joke, please don’t eat too much before watching some of these films.
Before you get indigestion a few words about some important changes at this year’s festival as bought to you by the scrumptious Kim. She shares that about a month ago the San Diego Asian Film Foundation (also SDAFF) changed it’s name to Pacific Arts Movement. Now being a young lad growing up during the 60’s and 70’s, I’m thinking, “Wait that sounds sort of political. What gives?”
Kim explains, “The idea of changing the name started years ago. The Film Foundation and Film Festival both have the same acronym of SDAFF and that has been confusing. But also, changing the name is a about a process of our growth. Plus by having San Diego Asian Film Foundation, it’s so specific and gives us very little flexibility. Technology allows us to share films and our work outside the barriers of San Diego. The film festival is our flagship program and film is always going to be our platform. But film has evolved, it’s really media arts, and that encompasses music video, food (yes, food) and other forms of story telling.
“Thus ‘Pacific,’ takes out the word ‘Asian,’ but also reflects that we’re on the Pacific Rim and serve audiences with stories from the Pacific Rim; ‘arts,’ makes it more broad and allows us to be more flexible; and ‘movement,’ this being important, because it’s not all just about film but being a catalyst for social change. Our mission is that our work creates a transformation and a positive cultural shift in the community. It’s also our spirit…we are a movement. It’s really just about moving forward. And just to show our commitment to film, we’ve added the tag line:  moving pictures, moving minds.
So the Pac-Arts Movement is evolving, changing, a catalyst for social change, transformation and food…sounds like some of the thematic devices behind the previously mentioned octet of wild and wacky films.
Dead SushiBack to the menu.  The next time your out at a Japanese restaurant, think twice about ordering sushi. No not because some select fish have more parasites than others but sometimes sushi may not be as dead as you think. In fact they’re probably more fresh than you think. In Dead Sushi (2012), directed by the man behind the psychotic Machine Girl (2008), RoboGeisha (2009) and Mutant Girls Squad (2010), Noboru Iguchi, just ask the ignored sushi apprentice Keiko (Rina Takeda) who must prepare for battle against the attack of the killer sushi who want human sushi.
Fried squid. But that’s not all behind Thai hip-hop artist Joey Boy (playing himself) in Dead Bite (2012) as he prepares his next video shoot with some totally awesome, bikini-clad babes on a desolate island. No, not a desolate island. Yep, and we can imagine what happens to the women as the film transforms into a zombexcellent, mermaid burger musical with screams that put Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant wail to shame.
And speaking of transformation, look no further than Henge (2012) an homage to the notion of Stand By Your Man. Not the pining love song by Tammy Wynette, but the lunatic love story about Keiko (Another one? Japanese parents beware, don’t name your daughter Keiko) who must pine, pin and spin her mind around the inevitable…my husband is changing into a human eating inhuman and inhumane monster.
If you think the above “is not” funny, then Tebana Sankichi: Snot Rockets (2012) will certainly be a jolly, grolly, dry heaving, throat clearing hawker in spit, I mean in spite of it’s title.
doomsday bookDoomsday Book (2012) is a trilogy of shorts that is not short on messages. From “Brave New World,” a film that would undoubtedly be loved by PETA where we learn that an apple a day doesn’t keep the zombie away, to “A Heavenly Creature” that argues if a Buddhist robot with a sentient Dalai Lama-esque awareness then it must be a danger to society, one doesn’t need a telegram to get the film’s point. In  “Happy Birthday” we are witness to the true destructive nature of a pool ball and the power of internet purchasing power.
Rounding off the rest of the octet are the literally spirited tandem of I am a Ghost (2012) and The Great Cinema Party (2012), with a touch of time machine magic in Young Gun in the Time (2012) and a series of short film collections entitled Monstrous Women and Land Before Time.
But wait, there’s one more. Kim gingerly giggles, “Oh my gosh, this is one of my favorites in the festival…Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings (2012).  Who’d have ever thought some one could have come up with a gay zombie film and make it accessible and fun. And we have it. The title itself is the best title of the festival. It’s totally zany and is actually a commentary on how people feel about the gay community in the Philippines.”
For information in regard to all of the above films and more, dates, time, cool stuff about the SDAFF and how to get to the Ultrastar Cinemas Mission Valley Hazard Center, please visit www.sdaff.org.  Also, if you’re up for an insanely amazing experience in health, once again, Vivalachi Alternative Health and Wellness Services will have an interactive Qi Healing booth that will be offering free Qi Reading that will reveal any physical or emotional issue you have now or are hidden, and Pull Out the Pain demonstrations.
Apart from giving terrific thanks to the Pac-Art Movement staff responsible for their cinematic choices in the SDAFF line up, an Old School Fant-Asia film nod goes out to artistic director Brian Hu for his Fant-Astic efforts in getting Resurrection and Flying Swords. A second nod goes out to managing director Phil Lorenzo for being the instigation behind much of the beautifully repugnant horror octet. Plus they’re both avid martial arts film fans. If I keep on nodding to everyone, I’ll transform into a bobble headed doll, get a bad headache and a sore neck. Two things that aren’t conducive to watching a ton of films over the next nine days.
P.S. Happy Halloween.